Amidst corruption allegations and a leadership crisis, a growing chorus of German politicians are calling for measures to be taken against the government of Yasser Arafat, including a freezing of European Union aid.
Reports suggest Yasser Arafat may have pocketed aid money
The foreign policy spokesman for the ruling Social Democratic Party (SPD), Gert Weisskirchen, told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper on Tuesday that EU foreign ministers should stop financial aid payments to the Palestinian Authority if the power fight in the government gets any worse. "This is an instrument with which we can support the constructive powers in Palestine," Weisskirchen argued.
Conservatives have also called for more controls on financial aid payments to the Palestinians. Armin Laschet, a member of the European Parliament representing the Christian Democratic Union, told the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper that the EU has committed "grave errors" in its funding of President Arafat. Between 2000 and 2003, the EU has wired €10 million a month to the Palestinian Authority without proper controls, he said. Laschet, who is co-chair of the parliamentary committee responsible for oversight of the EU's Palestinian aid, also alleged that the Palestinians had been using the funds illegally.
Stuffing his pockets with foreign aid?
Allegations that Arafat misappropriated international funds emerged earlier this week when German public broadcaster ARD ran a report with documents showing that Arafat wired $5.1 million in September 2001 to a personal account at the Arab Bank in Cairo. The report said the millions may also have included international aid money.
In light of the allegations, CDU's spokesman on Middle East policy, Ruprecht Polenz, called for the blocking of Arafat's account, "in which aid money is apparently sitting illegally." However, Polenz warned against taking blanket financial sanctions against the Palestinian Authority -- a move he said could strengthen opponents of the peace process, including the militant Hamas group.
Others said Europe should not act too hastily in distancing itself from Arafat. "As long as there's still an emotional solidarity in Palestine with Arafat, it wouldn't be prudent to write him off," said Gernot Erler, deputy chair of the SPD's parliamentary group.
Members of the Greens party, the SPD's junior government coalition partner, reacted cautiously to the latest developments. "It would be wrong to try to drive Arafat out of the country," said Christian Ströbele, the deputy chairman of the Greens' parliamentary group. "The Palestinians must decide for themselves who their future leaders will be," he told the Berliner Zeitung. Ströbele also warned that freezing EU funds for the Palestinians would only worsen an already catastrophic situation in the Gaza Strip.
Gaza Strip spirals into crisis
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia says he will quite because Arafat refuses to cede power
The Palestinian Authority is currently undergoing the worst crisis since it was founded a decade ago. Last week Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (photo) submitted his resignation, saying Arafat had been unwilling to cede his absolute power. He said Tuesday that his resignation stands, but that his government would remain for the time being as a "caretaker."
Israel has said that Arafat's absolute power is hindering the peace process. Qureia presented his resignation amid growing chaos in Gaza ahead of a planned Israeli pullout and discontent over disorder in the Palestinian security services.
EU leaders also have called on Arafat to hand over more power to Qureia. Speaking during a visit to Egypt on Tuesday, the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said the security crisis in the Gaza Strip should serve as an impetus for the Palestinian Authority to give more power to the prime minister.
"We do recommend strongly that the prime minister should be empowered with responsibilities of a prime minister in basic fields, which are the pillars of a future state -- one is security and the other is the economy," Solana told reporters earlier during a stopover in Jordan.